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Sick HCL jumps in takeover joy

- ‘In-principle’ silver lining in cloud heavy with shutdowns

July 22: Workers of the ailing Hindustan Cables Ltd were today seen rejoicing in the middle of a season of factory closures in Bengal as news reached them about the defence ministry’s “in principle” approval of its takeover by the Ordnance Factory Board.

The “in principle” approval, though, is not the final word on the fate of the sick public sector undertaking (PSU).

The positive movement is certain to rub salt into Trinamul’s industrial wounds, not only because of the contrast with the shutdowns elsewhere in Bengal but also because BJP MP Babul Supriyo has claimed credit for the breakthrough in Delhi.

The Union ministry for heavy industries and public enterprises believes the company will go to the Ordnance Factory Board.

Defence ministry sources said the proposal, mooted in 2011, was still “under consideration”.

But there is a precedent for such a move. In 2009, the Centre moved the sick public sector undertaking Hindustan Shipyard to the defence ministry.

Part of the reason for that move was strategic — the premises of the shipyard were used to build the Arihant nuclear submarine that would be heading into sea trials shortly.

In the case of Hindustan Cables, the defence ministry has not decided how its facilities at Rupnarayanpur, Asansol, and Hyderabad may be used. One possibility is to use its cables for warships that are now mostly being built in the country.

The minister of state for heavy industries and public enterprises, P. Radhakrishnan, had said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha yesterday: “Based on the ‘in principle’ approval, a comprehensive BRPSE (Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises) note, taking into account the views of various stakeholder ministries, is being submitted for the consideration of BRPSE.”

This would mean that the BRPSE will decide on the takeover after taking into account views of all ministries concerned.

This month, Shalimar Paints suspended work. The ailing Jessop and Co had suspended work two days before the declaration of the general election results and Hindustan Motors closed its Uttarpara plant soon after.

HCL stopped production in 2003, although the company was not shut down.

The PSU used to make polythene insulated jelly-filled cables. Telecom companies such as BSNL were its clients but since the arrival of optical fibres in the market, government telephone companies had stopped placing orders.

“We were not getting salaries since August last year and were spending sleepless nights. It is now like a dream come true for us. We now hope that production begins before Pujas,” said Amar Mandal, 55, one of the 900 workers of the plant in Rupnarayanpur in Asansol, the constituency of BJP’s Supriyo.

Another worker Dipankar Ghosal, 50, said a decade-long battle seemed to be finally over.

“We have been demanding the revival of the plant since 2003 when production was stopped here after Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) stopped placing orders. Today, we are very happy and hope the takeover would be completed soon,” Ghosal said.

The workers today smeared aabir on each other and also distributed sweets.

Asansol MP Supriyo, whose constituency houses the plant, said he took the initiative after the Lok Sabha polls to revive the HCL plant and met heavy industries minister Anant Geete in Delhi.

“I am as happy as the workers of HCL who are not getting their salaries for nearly a year. I understood their pain when I went to the area during the election campaign and had promised them that I would look into the matter,” Supriyo said over phone today.

Although Basudeb Dey, the unit head of the plant, said he had not yet received any official communication from Delhi, M.K. Singh, the chairman and managing director of HCL, said: “The Ordnance Factory Board will build its own manufacturing facilities in every location (of HCL). Our workers will be deployed from the construction phase. Later, they will be re-skilled to work in the new production facilities.”

The company has Rs 6,500 crore in liabilities. But 80 per cent of it is to the central government. The Ordnance Factory Board will take over HCL on a “clean slate basis”, which means it will not inherit any liabilities. The ministries of defence and heavy industries are in dialogue on how to restructure the liabilities of the firm, Singh said.

Intuc and Citu, the two main unions at the plant, today said Supriyo and the BJP could not take credit for the possible takeover.

“I don’t understand why the BJP and its MP are trying to take credit when it (the possibility of a takeover) was already under process,” said Charanjit Singh Goraya, general secretary of the Intuc-backed union at HCL.